Mackenzie Scott decided to make music under the moniker TORRES because it was her Grandfather’s first name, and it is this inescapable closeness to her upbringing and authentic roots that runs throughout her music. Scott makes heart-wrenchingly personal indie rock, delving into themes of childhood and reaches back to her upbringing in the Baptist Church on her fantastic sophomore album Sprinter.
Scott grew up in the deep south of America, in Georgia a stronghold for the Baptist Church. Sprinter sees Mackenzie Scott confronting this past, from which you sense she has spent a long time running from, (hence Sprinter). On the title track we immediately hear the uneasiness that lies in her past and the hypocrisy that she started to see in organised religion, ‘Pastor lost his position / Went down for pornography.’ I asked her what her feelings on the church are now, and she pretty bluntly said: ‘I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, but I’m not in the church anymore.’
Throughout our interview I got the sense that Scott found it easier to communicate about what is personal to her through her songs than in a one on one conversation. However, she adamantly denied this, claiming that they are not personal at all. “The truth is that I control what goes into the songwriting and it isn’t actually that personal at all. People just think it is. I like mystique and I’m always blurring the lines between fictitious and autobiographical storytelling.”
This was a surprise at first, so much of the album takes place from a first person perspective, but then it started to make sense to me. Like the artwork for the album, there is always a sense that you can only truly see half of what is going on. The whole story always remains partially in the darkness battling the light. Sprinter is overflowing with dichotomous battles that the cover clearly represents and Scott helpfully namechecked a few more for me. “This record is all about beginnings and ends, creation and apocalypse, freedom and repression.”
We talked about what it was like drawing upon memories of her childhood for the new album. Exploring one’s childhood can be uncomfortable for a writer, especially considering it is so intrinsic to our present identity, but Scott did not seem daunted by this at all. “Writing this album was cleansing, in a way, because it was basically regression therapy. It was difficult to put myself in that headspace, but once I was there, memories began to pour in – some unpleasant, some wonderful – and I was able to manipulate those past experiences in the songwriting. It was healing for me, and also really fun as a storyteller.”
Speaking of having fun as a storyteller, I felt compelled to ask about the standout track from her eponymous debut album, ‘Moon & Back’. During the song she inhabits the mind of her birth mother (Scott is adopted) writing a letter to her baby who she’d never know. Scott received this letter after she graduated high school, and writing from other people in her life’s perspective and getting inside their heads is a technique she repeatedly uses. As soon as I asked her about doing this and whether she ever talked this through with people in her life, she immediately recoiled back into the darkness. “I don’t talk about these things in conversation, especially not to the people implicated in the songwriting.” Clearly she feels that her songs speak for themselves, which is reasonable considering the amount of time and craft she talks about putting into them.
We then moved onto talking about the actual sound of the album. TORRES’ lyrics are so central to her music that it is easy to get fixated on them without noticing the definite change her sound has undergone between albums. Sprinter is harsher and leaner than its predecessor, the reverb notch has truly been turned up to eleven. “The heavier sound is reflective of what my live show has become over the last two years. The performances evolved into something more heavy and rougher than what my debut album reflected. I wanted the new album to be more representative of how I actually perform.” When she does revert to her more stripped back sound, it is all the more powerful for its rarity such as on awe-inducing album closer ‘The Exchange’.
As I have alluded to Scott is an incredibly accomplished songwriter. She studied songwriting at Belmont University in Nashville, but has shown signs of resenting this clinical approach to art. After the release of her debut she tweeted one of her lecturer’s evaluation of her lyrics for the song ‘Jealousy And I’. She got good marks because of “identifiable elements” and the fact that it “rhymes well”. These remarks are not exactly world altering so I asked Scott whether she found that attending university helped her. The response I got was typically diplomatic: “It’s hard to know what would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to study songwriting in school. I think everything I did helped to get me where I am now, so the only answer I have is yes. I believe the songwriting program helped. If nothing else, it gave me time to hone my craft and figure out what kind of mark I want to make.” All those who have heard Scott’s latest album will note that the mark she’s left, won’t be fading fast.
TORRES latest album Sprinter is out now and she is touring the UK throughout September.